Posted in Early Reader, Intermediate

Spooky Halloween Activities – A spooky wipe-clean doodle pad

Spooky Halloween Activities, by Priddy Books, (July 2019, Priddy Books), $6.99, ISBN: 9780312528836

Ages 4-7

A quick Halloween goodie to crow about: Spooky Halloween Activities is a fun activity book from Priddy Books, that comes with wipe-clean pages and a dry-eraase pen. Kids can complete scary mazes, decorate a door and design a Halloween monster, or use the included stickers to design a costume and fill a witch’s cupboard. The book is spiral-bound and sturdy, and you can use any dry-erase pen if the one that comes with it goes missing, or if two kids want to work together on a creation (and since the book is spiral, it can be laid out flat to let two kids work on a page simultaneously). If you are able to invest in a few of them, are a nice, reusable handout to kids at the reference desk, classroom for quiet time, or your living room. It’s a fun, creative way to get the Halloween vibes flowing.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Art takes on a new dimension in The Maker

The Maker, by D.F. Anderson, (Jan. 2018, Underdog Books), $14.95, ISBN: 9780991800346

Recommended for readers 9-13

Thirteen-year-old Nate loves to draw. It’s one of his lasting connections with his father, who’s been gone for months, with no word. His mother’s boyfriend, Ted, goes at Nate whenever he gets a chance, insulting his artwork and attacking his grades; his mother is no comfort. Things change rapidly for Nate when a group of aliens show up at his window one night, telling him that he and his father are Makers: artists with the talent to bring their drawings to life. Nate’s father hasn’t abandoned them, he’s been kidnapped, and the aliens from the planet Meer are relying on Nate to help them save his father and the other kidnapped Makers before a cruel alien race wipes them out – and then heads for Earth.

The Maker has a great concept: using living beings as 3-D printers, when you think about it. By channeling their talents, Makers can give life to their drawings to create starships, cities… the sky’s the limit. The Makers connect with an energy source, mica, to give shape to their ideas; they can collaborate on large projects, or work individually to create small, detailed pieces. Readers will get into the sci-fi adventure story and relate to Nate, a kid who’s been put down to the point where he doesn’t believe in his own talent until put to the test – and then exceeds his wildest dreams. The evil parent/boyfriend situation is addressed in a neatly wrapped-up plotline. There are warring alien races, planet-eating machines to stop, and strong relationships that sci-fi and fantasy fans will enjoy, plus some moments of humor, including an evil alien who can be tortured… by pulling on his toe. Made you smile!

Add this to collections where you have sci-fi readers. Display this with some maker titles, and have a booktalk ready when kids come over and ask why it’s there.


Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Books about art for kids to love and be inspired by

I love letting kids go hog wild on artwork. I’ve had art stortyimes where kids have made their own Frida self-portraits and contributed to a Diego Rivera mural; I’ve let little ones create collage by tearing up paper and gluing them to paper in any way, shape or form that strikes their fancy, and I make coloring sheets and crayons available at my reference desk every day. It’s fun to watch how kids take a simple piece of blank paper and create something wonderful, and if I get a contribution to my art gallery – the shelves running the length of the children’s room – even better. Here are some picture books that will get your storytimes jumping; two are interactive – think Herve Tullet readalikes – and one is a multicultural, bilingual rhyming book that explores Latinx culture and imagination. Go forth and create!

Crocodali, by Lucy Volpin, (Aug. 2017, little bee books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0633-5

Recommended for readers 4-8

Crocodali is the most talented painter in the whole wide world, and he’s allowing readers into his studio to help him create a new masterpiece! By tilting, turning, shaking, and rubbing pages, kids will get a kick out of seeing how they “affect” the painting with each turn of the page! Watercolor endpapers and artwork may inspire kids to create art with simple swipes of the brush, and Crocodali’s reactions – especially great for read-alouds – bring on the giggles. This has entered regular storytime rotation here at home and is great for preschooler storytimes with some time set aside afterward to let kids create their own artwork. I’d pair this one with Art & Max, by David Wiesner.



Rosa Draws, by Jordan Wray, (May 2018, words & pictures), $17.95, ISBN: 9781910277508

Recommended for readers 3-7

Rosa is a little girl who loves to draw, and has a big, vivid imagination! This adorable rhyming story introduces readers to a cat wearing a ridonkulous hat, a hungry bear, a posh goose, a peacock wearing socks, and more. Where will Rosa’s imagination take her – and readers who come along for the trip? There are bright, bold colors and wacky characters aplenty for kids to discover here; perfect for encouraging readers to create their own wacky characters after a stortyime. Positive messages about creativity and family make this a nice storytime read-aloud or cuddle time reading at home. For some extra fun, put rhyming words into a box or bag, have the kids choose a couple, and illustrate what they get. I think Lois Ehlert’s The Scraps Book would go nicely with the creative process introduced in Rosa Draws.



The Color Factory, by Eric Telchin/Illustrated by Diego Funck, (June 2018, little bee books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781499805567

Recommended for readers 4-8

The Color Factory has already entered regular storytime reading for me at home, with my Kindergartener demanding it on an almost daily/nightly basis. The follow-up to 2016’s The Black and White Factory (wait until my kid finds out about this one), the three animal friends are back and taking readers on a tour of their new color factory. They invite readers to help mix up new, factory-approved colors, until things go horribly wrong! Readers have to pitch in to help as the characters refer to the instruction manual, which isn’t really encouraging. Luckily, the trio – with our readers’ help – learn to accept and enjoy the exciting new colors they create. With bright, vibrant colors and loads of opportunities to “push” buttons, “mix” colors, and help save the day, kids are going to love this wacky, fun adventure. Pair this one with Herve Tullet’s Mix It Up for added interactive fun, and if you have the space, put some newspaper down, hand out old t-shirts, and let kids learn how to mix their own colors with some fingerpainting time.


A Paintbrush for Paco, by Tracey Kyle/Illustrated by Joshua Heinsz, (July 2018, little bee books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781499805444

Recommended for readers 4-8

Paco is a young boy sitting in class, doodling as he awaits recess. His drawings catch his teacher’s eye, and the excited profesor rushes Paco to the art room, where a world of color awaits him! The bilingual text flows like the beautiful, colorful artwork; I love the lyrical rhyming text that curls and wanders around each page as the world of color and imagination opens itself to Paco: “Pink, rosado. Purple, morado. A fiery orange, anaranjado. Verde, the green in a vine of ripe grapes. Rojo, the red in the matadors’ capes.” The artwork is influenced by Paco’s Latino heritage, enchanting readers with visions of mountains, family, and vibrant Mexican-inspired artwork. I love that Paco’s teacher is a positive role model that encourages his student’s talent, and I love the way the Spanish and English languages come together to tell a gorgeous story. This one is an absolute must-add for art collections and for storytime reading. Pair with Roseanne Thong’s Green is a Chile Pepper or Cynthia Weill’s concept books, published through Cinco Puntos Press, that teach concepts in Spanish and English, and feature Mexican folk art.

Posted in Early Reader, Preschool Reads

Niko Draws a Feeling: What do you see?

niko-draws-a-feelingNiko Draws a Feeling, by Bob Raczka/Illustrated by Simone Shin, (April 2017, Carolrhoda Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781467798433

Recommended for ages 4-8

Niko loves to draw the world around him. Everything inspires him, and ideas flow through him, from his brain down to his fingers. He captures feelings, not images: the ring-a-ling of an ice cream truck; the warmth of the sun; the hard work of a mother robin building a next. No one seems to understand Niko. They’re looking for the bell of the truck; the sun and Niko’s face; the mother robin. Niko captures the feelings these things inspire, but no one seems to grasp that, until he meets Iris, a new girl moving into the neighborhood. She understands exactly what he has to say, because she feels, rather than looks.

I adore this book. It reaches in and touches the reader, just like Niko’s drawings. Younger children will appreciate that someone out there understands what they’re trying to communicate, much like Niko and Iris finding one another. Raczka and Shin create a story that relies on feelings and emotions inspired by the world around us, and reminding us that art, like feeling, is abstract, and able to be communicated in many ways. Simone Shin’s mixed media, digital and acrylic paints give us a world that looks like it could have been drawn by Niko himself.

There are so many ways to use this book beyond a simple storytime. Ask kids to draw their own feelings, their own experiences of the world around them. Let them explain what they see, and see it with them. Pair this with Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery’s A Squiggly Story for a great storytime on self-expression and art.

Bob Raczka is an award-winning children’s author and poet. Simone Shin is an award-winning illustrator.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

A boy tries to find his defining talent in Just One Thing!

just-one-thingJust One Thing!, by N. Viau/Illustrated by Timothy Young, (Sept. 2016, Schiffer Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764351624

Recommended for ages 8-12

Anthony Pantaloni has GOT to get a better nickname. The class bully christened him with Antsy Pant, and he needs to get rid of that name before they start middle school, or he’ll be stuck with it for the rest of his LIFE. He needs to find his One Thing – the thing that will define him. His buddy Marcus is Mr. Athletic; Alexis is really smart; Bethany is obsessed with horses, and Cory – the bully – is the toughest kid in school. Every time he tries to develop a new talent, it just doesn’t stick. What’s a kid to do? He can’t be Antsy Pantsy forever, he just can’t! To make matters worse, his cousin, who’s living with them while her parents are deployed, drives him crazy, and his dad is dating one of his teachers! Anthony doesn’t want THAT to be what he’s known for, either! This kid needs help!

I got a kick out of Just One Thing. It’s a fun book about growing up and self-exploration; trying to figure out what you’re good at, and trying to define yourself. Anthony is funny and genuine; he’s frustrated by things around him, but tries to be sensitive to everyone around him at the same time. It’s a nice balance to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Pages at the end of each chapter let kids journal, doodle, or draw; a nice added touch that makes the book more personal for kids trying to figure out their One Thing. The book is told in the first person from Anthony’s point of view, and various words get fun font treatment for emphasis, and it works – you hear the tone as you read. There are doodles – Anthony’s doodles – and lists, so the journal feel is there.just-one-thing_2


I would absolutely give this as a gift, but it would be wrecked in circulation. Yes, the text says to doodle or draw if it’s YOUR copy of Just One Thing, but that’s not going to fly in my library. I do have an extra copy to give as a prize in my upcoming Winter Reading Challenge, and I am going to feature this book in a Read-Aloud book club that I’m starting this month. More on that in a future post.


Just One Thing! is a lot of fun for middle graders who love Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, and Lenore Look’s Alvin Ho series. I may write a discussion guide for this book if I can get my group talking about it – if I do, I’ll post it here.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Preschool Reads

A little boy learns to tell A Squiggly Story

squigglyA Squiggly Story, by Andrew Larsen/Illustrated by Mike Lowery (Sept. 2016, Kids Can Press), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771380164

Recommended for ages 3-6

A little boy wants to write a story, just like his big sister, but he’s got one problem: he doesn’t know that many words! Big sister knows just what to tell him: start with what you know. Every word starts with a single letter, after all! When he writes the letter “I”, he’s on his way; with his sister to help guide his thought process, he’s on his way to creating an exciting adventure!

What a great way to encourage new learners to create their own stories! The little boy is unsure about himself at first, but his sister quickly allays his fears by empowering him to just go with what he knows, guiding him through the stages of writing a story: the beginning, the middle, and the end. When he proudly brings his finished story to school, his teacher encourages him to think even more deeply, and turns the story into a class project. It’s a great storytime concept and a great way to introduce creative writing and art to new learners.

Mike Lowery’s cartoony art is filled with interesting styles to capture a young readers’ attention. There are word bubbles, emphasis on words like BIG and small, comic-style panels, and callout sketches that invite readers into the characters’ imaginations. The children are multiethnic, making the story accessible for all.

This is a good addition to creative picture book collections. Pair A Squiggly Story with Written and Drawn by Henrietta for a creative storytime and crafternoon.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Middle School, Tween Reads

Book Review: Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School by Ruth McNally Barshaw (Bloomsbury, 2008)

Recommended for ages 8-12
Ellie McDoodle is the nickname for sixth grader Eleanor McDougal, who fills her notebooks with doodles, journaling the people around her, her family, and her own daily happenings.

When Ellie’s parents announce that they’re moving, Ellie is crushed. She doesn’t want to leave her friends, her school, or her home. She creates a journal to document the move, insisting that “there won’t be much to keep track of… because this is the END of everything good.”

Or is it? Despite some rough patches, like discovering the “New Kid Bingo” card some of her classmates circulate at school or teachers not remembering her name, Ellie learns that being the new kid may not be so bad. Through her own actions, she makes friends, convinces her parents to give her a room of her own in the attic, and organizes her fellow classmates in a peaceful against long lunch lines in the cafeteria. Being the new kid may end up being sort of fun after all.

Ruth McNally Barshaw’s Ellie McDoodle series has been described by Student Library Journal as “reminiscent of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid“, and it is to some degree: both stories have a vibrant narrator who tells his tale in the first person, accompanied by line drawings. To dismiss Ellie McDoodle as merely a feminine Wimpy Kid is selling the book short. Ellie McDoodle is not a Wimpy Kid clone; it is a smart, sensitive book featuring a character to whom both boys and girls can relate.
Ellie’s family is as realistic and provides a positive family model. The family eats meals together at the same table; they play friendly pranks on one another, like hiding a spooky-looking Mrs. Santa Claus figure all around the house to take family members off guard; even Ellie’s cranky older sister Risa is never outright abusive, but is more of an angsty teen. Her older brother Jonathan is a friendly clown who makes punny jokes, and her toddler brother, Ben-Ben, is a happy baby who gets into everything. 
Readers will see Ellie as a positive role model who affects her own change rather than waiting for it to come to her. Rather than succumb to her sadness, Ellie seeks ways to make the best of her situation. She befriends a librarian at the local library; meets neighborhood children and accepts their invitiations to play, a move that helps her cope with insensitive schoolmates. Using her talent in art to help make a difference in her school, her peaceful protest gets not only the notice of the principal, but of the local television station.
Ruth McNally Barshaw’s website offers information on all of the Ellie McDoodle books and links to more of McNally Barshaw’s art. Readers can find out where she’ll be appearing and read her blog, and create Ellie mini-books and stationery. She offers teens advice on writing their own graphic novels, and has teaching guides available for educators.
The Ilsley Public Library in Vermont created a book trailer for New Kid in School, viewable below.